Bevan Woodward - Skypath

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Matakana commuters take note: If you’re driving back from Auckland in the evening, don’t be surprised if you get a text from Bevan Woodward. The sustainable transport planner and “professional badgerer” has spent the last 9 years hitching lifts from his Point Wells home to the city, knocking on – or more accurately, banging his head against – political and institutional doors in a bid to make Auckland a more cycle and pedestrian-friendly city.

Chief among his projects was his role as director of SkyPath, the $33.5 million pedestrian and cycling pathway to be suspended below the eastern clip-on of the Auckland Harbour Bridge from Westhaven Marina to Northcote Point. After more than a decade of badgering, campaigning and protesting, resource consent for the project was finally granted in November.

Bevan didn’t even own a bike back in 1999, when he spent his daily commute pondering why it wasn’t possible to ride over the Harbour Bridge. He sent a “naïve” handwritten inquiry to the forerunner of NZTA, Transit New Zealand, whose nice-idea–can’t-be-done response sparked a decade-long mission.

“The scoundrels fobbed me off completely,” says Bevan. “It really triggered me. I knew that it was wrong on a high level, so I began to badger them.”

He bought a bike, joined Cycle Action Auckland, and the Get Across campaign was born.

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While Auckland Council was supportive, Bevan would spend the next decade promoting the “huge benefits” of walking and cycling to NZTA and other government organisations. “I attended so many meetings and just got nowhere. We needed a flagship project and that was SkyPath.”

Still, the fob offs continued. “They said it wasn’t possible, we couldn’t afford it or it was a waste of money,” says Bevan. “It was a contrast of aspirations really. They were big institutions, focused on motorway building and network efficiency.”

In 2009, after a third proposal was rejected, Bevan organised a public demonstration. When NZTA denied permission to cross the bridge, the 5000-strong crowd broke through police barricades on foot, bicycle, unicycle and even stilts, closing all four northbound lanes.

“It was one of the best days ever,” says Bevan. “I was almost ready to give up, but the support was really inspiring and motivated me to work as hard as I could to see it through.”

The protest brought NZTA back to the table, along with welcome media attention. Engineers and other consultants offered support, often deferring fees or donating time. “I’d never organised a public demonstration before, but I think we need more civil action.”

There is, Bevan says, a huge amount of institutional resistance to walking and cycling initiatives. “It’s all about the business case. I come from an accounting and finance background, but it sickens me because that can’t adequately consider the social or environmental aspects. How do we put a value on destroying the planet?

“If I raise carbon emissions or climate change, I just get a smirk. It doesn’t carry any weight, nor do the social effects of roading projects, like traffic noise or the impact of a road that severs a community.”

Bevan says the dichotomy of economy versus the environment is redundant thinking. “We need to start thinking about what’s good for the economy and the environment.”

Bevan inherited his sense of social justice from his mother Pam, a solo mum and a strong advocate for her peers back in the day.  “She couldn’t get a mortgage in her own name. I saw that struggle… When I see something in society that’s wrong at a high level, I want to do something about it.”

Watching his Mum take in children from the local orphanage for the weekend, deeply affected the young Bevan. He and his wife Gera Verheul have fostered over 40 children and while on the whole it has been a “great experience”, he admits it’s a roller coaster. “When the kids leave, I feel down for a couple of days. We don’t hear about them again. But the highs come from giving what you can.”

With the delivery of SkyPath now in the hands of the professionals, Bevan has switched his focus to other transport-related projects. He was a key player in the creation of the cycleway between Point Wells and Omaha, and he’s now working with local board member Allison Roe, the Matakana Coast Trail Trust and community groups, to create a network of walking trails from Puhoi to Pakiri. He’s keen to develop more paths, and is currently working on safer speed management across the country.

“I do love Auckland, but I struggle with the traffic. Living in a community that is safe for walking and cycling is really important to me.”